First it was the battle rounds; now we’re onto the knockouts. It’s no wonder I’m finding these weekly reviews such hard going – one week out from the live quarterfinals and I’m starting to develop a nasty case of cauliflower ear. And yet, no matter how aggressive the terminology used to describe the various rounds, the show itself is still a bit like being licked to death by a tiresomely attentive beagle. It doesn’t so much knock you out, as gradually wear you down with its boundless enthusiasm.
This weekend, we’re treated to a double bill – almost three hours of relentless over singing, and judges who refuse to pass anything like a damning verdict. The mild-mannered niceness is overwhelming, which can make sitting through such extensive coverage feel like something of a marathon. By the end of this review, I fully expect to be wrapped in one of those tinfoil blankets as someone throws a cup of Lucozade into my face.
Since there are only three more episodes left in the series, it’s clear where the problems lie with the format. Far too much weighting is given to the blind auditions; half of the entire run, in fact. Which leaves just seven episodes to get down from 56 singers to the winner. It’s no wonder, then, that previous champions have slipped into anonymity quicker than Lord Lucan at a moustache aficionados’ conference.
Needless to say, I don’t plan to laboriously recap every performance that occurs this weekend. For a start, I don’t plan on rivaling JK Rowling in the word count stakes, and if it’s painful to watch, I can only imagine the discomfort involved in reading about it. So fasten yourself in for a whistle-stop tour of the highlights, and lowlights. And if you really care about everything in the middle – there’s always iPlayer.
The key theme of the Knockout round seems to be song choice. The contestants are now responsible for their own pick, and they’re all determined to take a risk, and then worry about it. Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice that budget cuts seem to have reduced the performers down to sharing a single microphone; which gets passed on at the end of each performance like a sweat-soaked relay baton. Not that it’s stopped the producers from planting random mic’s elsewhere around the studio. For some reason, we need to hear the comments of random family members in the audience, as well as sotto voce commentary by the other contestants, who’ve been forced to stand uncomfortably in the wings as their teammates perform. Sally’s awkward dancing during her fellow competitors’ songs was a particular low point.
Finally, there’s all the hugging. If it’s not Marvin, commanding people to embrace each other like he’s directing amateur porn, it’s everyone else piling on whenever the camera turns in their direction. If the editors cut out all the shots of people hugging it out, there’d only be about half an hour of footage.
Kylie’s on the lookout for “Charisma, talent, amazingness,” only narrowly managing to avoid copyright infringement of RuPaul’s more memorable “Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent.” As for the contestants; they’ve all been reaching into the cliché bran tub and pulling out their random bon mots:
“I need to be in the finals, so much,” “It is a competition at the end of the day,” and “It’s make or break, it’s as simple as that.” As she gees them up for their big moment, Kylie intimates that the judging process isn’t quite as hands-on as the producers would have us believe, “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know you, a little bit, throughout this process.” Word to the wise – when you get rejected, don’t bother asking the mentors if you’ll still be friends.
Leo describes the “most cringiest situation I’ve ever been in,” before immediately besting it with a falsetto-heavy version of I Wanna Know What Love Is. Jai is described as “unlike anyone else,” excluding all the other second rate Winehouse impersonators out there, and squawks her way through Take Your Mama Out Tonight like an angry penguin. Jade wants “to show Kylie that I don’t just do pop and commercial,” just in case The Voice was in danger of discovering a commercially viable recording artist, and performs a sultry version of Blue Moon that about as authentically seductive as a sex scene with Frank Drebin. Lee stands on stage as if he’s awaiting sentencing in a magistrate’s court, before making Careless Whisper sound like a Nick Drake b-side. Femi gives us Bobby Womack’s version of California Dreaming, and struggles to stay in the right key. Rachael does New York by Paloma Faith, having reminded us she’s just a small-town girl from Northern Ireland. In fact, every shot in her VT has a tractor in it, like the ubiquitous penny-farthing in French & Saunders’ House of Idiot. Jamie wants to show us his sexy side, but even Ryan Gosling would struggle in a wool waistcoat. Ricky describes Kylie’s decision as being “like picking lobsters in a restaurant,” which has me imagining a far more interesting task for the quarter finals. Someone fire up the hot-tub. In the end, La Minogue picks Lee, Jamie and Rachael, as we’re treated to more hugs than Christmas on Waltons Mountain.
“Kylie’s made her decision, mine’s to come. And like her, I’m dreading it,” growls Tom. With an hour and a half still to go, I’m hardly cock-a-hoop either. Celestine kicks things off with You Might Need Somebody, and I’m thinking that the bus fare home might be of more use to her. Melissa’s sole characteristic is her pink hair, which is just as well, since her performance was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was supposed to be the Joan Jett classic, but she might as well have renamed it I Don’t Really Like Rock n Roll, How About a Weird Swing Hybrid Instead? Gary has “got that soul thing,” which sounds like a medical affliction, and his odd rendition of George Michael’s Freedom isn’t helped by the weird vocal twitch that suggests he caught himself in his zip. Bizzi is having a go at Leo Sayer and promises to get “Bizzi with it.” Sigh. Tom warns him not to get too “Oobly oobly,” which is Tom’s way of describing an overly melismatic performance. In the end, it’s as dull and lifeless as a deflated sex doll dressed as an accountant. Georgia is still Adele’s cousin, but struggling to find her own voice. She surprises everyone with her version of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, but I’m more taken aback by her outfit, which looks like a cross between L’il orphan Annie and Olive Oyl. Steven unwisely attempts to tackle Mika’s Grace Kelly, once Kylie and Ricky have finished flirting, and Will’s done writing in his diary. The falsetto bits sound like Mister Punch getting ready to beat his wife. Finally, there’s a touch of class as Sally take the stage and softly tells us “You don’t have to bash ten bells out of something.” She maintains that she’s really enjoying the experience, but I guess her face didn’t get the memo. When she sings, she’s dynamite, like a blend of Beverly Craven and Christine McVie, but she has the body-language of an argumentative traffic warden.
Tom gets it mostly right, picking Sally, Georgia and Bizzi.
Ricky’s got something up his sleeve and promises give us the full monty. Let’s just say, if he can tuck it into his sleeve, I’ll be watching closely. We’re reminded that 45,000 people auditioned to be on this show, and yet it feels like half of them are still on it. And there’s only three shows left.
Jessica screws up everything in her audition and would probably be a nightmare to manage. Her version of La La La is pitchy and tuneless, but in that sense, it’s not too far from the original. Chris has an unusual quality: “He walks in a room and you think, ah right, Chris is here.” So his special skill is that he’s corporeal? He seems to think that the world needs yet another version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, then delivers a performance which proves, once and for all, that it didn’t. Beth is the youngest in the competition, and looks like Michaela Strachan in Worzel Gummidge’s wig. She’s singing Teenage Dirtbag, but without any consonants. It’s such a lazy way of singing, she’d probably enunciate better if she was spitting out bubble gum. Christina Marie tries to do Mariah’s Vision of Love with her brassy belter of a voice, which is a little like trying to parallel park a JCB. Relieved that it’s all over, she puts her hands in her hair, and I’m beginning to think that sleeves might have been a good idea. Jazz worships Beyonce, and has picked Work It Out for her big performance. Ricky’s unimpressed with the choice, and I can see his point – it’s a song that lacks any discernible melody, so coupled with her shrill vocal style, it’s like a mid-tempo migraine made out of funk. Max is cool, confident, and way out of his league. His version of Home by Gabrielle Aplin sounds as if he’s attending his first post-stroke speech therapy session. Last of the bunch is Emily, who’s picked a Stooshe song to show that she’s young and fresh, despite being a sixties pastiche. It’s a bit like watching Sheridan Smith on karaoke, and makes for a very long 80 seconds.
Ricky chooses Chris, Christina Marie and Emily to go through to the live shows.
Will’s rhyming again about his pristine team with “vocals to the extreme,” whilst Tom’s still practicing using the word ‘fresh’ in conversation. Iesher says “I think Will is gonna have a tough time choosing,” when what she actually means is, “…the other two.” As all seven members of Team Will line up on stage, they make Guardians of the Galaxy look normal.
James is still struggling with his confidence, typified by an awkward high-five-cum-handshake that Will initiates. Iesher makes everyone feel ancient, by picking a Whitney Houston song her mum used to sing when she was little, only to reveal that it’s from the legendary diva’s final album. The performance is disappointingly shrill and nasal, but her other performances may yet save her. Callum is wearing another ridiculous outfit that looks as if he just crawled out of a tumble dryer and threw on whatever stuck to his leg. Jermain makes up for his ice-wash denim shirt with a great vocal on A House Is Not A Home. He has a rich baritone that really works on this song, but it’s far from the definitive talent show version (for that, you’ll have to Google Tamyra Gray). Anna’s harping on again, so Will plays producer and desperately tries to add a little oomph to her somnambulistic performance. Her voice is pretty enough, but the moment is spoiled by a hilarious shot of her dad’s wobbling bottom lip as he attempts to hold back the tears. Nomakhosi yelps and screams all over a Bruno Mars song, and looks as though she was enjoying herself. I guess the law of averages dictates that someone had to. “That was great,” adds Ricky, unconvincingly. Sophie appears to be trapped in time - Will thinks she’s from the 1920s, she’s dressed like 1940s, and she’s obsessing about 1960s Audrey Hepburn. Will thinks she’s a unicorn that takes him to Wonderland, but her version of Moon River is so drowsy, I’m beginning to suspect that Wonderland is a bedding store.
Bringing this week’s excitement to a close, Will chooses Iesher, Jermain and Sophie.